From the September 2000 issue of Startups

In the world of marketing it's all about relationships, especially if you're a woman or minority entrepreneur aiming your business at female and minority clients.

"Females in particular readily seek out the advice of professional peers and place a higher value on customer service," says Joan Steltman, a market development executive in charge of IBM's women-owned business Web site and an expert on relationship marketing.

Steltman adds that in order for women and minorities to successfully market to their peer groups, it's important to build both client and peer alliances through the following:

  • Focus on building strong customer relationships. Good business relationships are fostered by good personal relationships. Stay in close touch with customers regarding their order status, and send thank-yous and satisfaction surveys. Create customer retention programs, and encourage word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Use a collaborative approach with peers. Share customer leads with noncompetitive business owners. Steltman says that women- and minority-owned businesses are especially good at sharing the wealth--so good, they often band together to bid on larger contracts they might not be able to handle on their own. This ability to work together is the mark of a savvy entrepreneur keen on long-term growth.
  • Network with peers and clients. Become part of your local business community, and leverage those contacts you meet at professional meetings and chamber of commerce affairs. Join associations that offer education, professional resources and member benefits.
  • Leverage technology for success. Small businesses owned by women and minorities are more likely than white, male-owned to have Internet access, conduct both business and personal research online, and purchase goods and services online, according to Dun &Bradstreet's 19th Small Business Survey. And according to the National Foundation of Women Business Owners, women are also more likely to create a Web presence for their businesses--23 percent of female business owners have Web sites compared to 16 percent of male business owners. Given these online stats, you should both share ideas about new technology with peers and use your site to communicate with customers through your own feedback surveys.

Julia Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in business and marketing. She can be reached at juliam129@aol.com.